The subtitle to this is “The Uncollected Fiction and Other Prose”, the “other prose” being essays, book reviews, and introductions. There is also a fragment of an unfinished novel called “The Augustine Notebooks” which showed promise of being an interesting novel had it been completed. I’ve read Carver’s other short story collections over the past year and while I liked them, I didn’t see the “genius” in them, a title that is often bestowed on him by many writers and others in the literary community. To me, he is very much like Hemingway only I feel that Hemingway is a much better writer. There are some really good stories in here, my favorites being “Kindling”, “Dreams”, and “Furious Seasons.”
But the work that truly shines here are his essays on writing, which I thought were great, and quite helpful to the would-be writer. In his essay “On Writing” he speaks of dispensing with “tricks and gimmicks” as well as warning the writer to be wary of being “too experimental”, which he calls “careless, silly or imitative” and a “license to try to brutalize or alienate the reader.” In “John Gardner: The Writer as Teacher” he speaks warmly and fondly of his teacher and mentor, and his experience learning from him and how much Gardner had supported his development as a writer. One piece of advice Gardner had given him was this: “Read all the Faulkner you can get your hands on, and then read all of Hemingway to clean the Faulkner out of your system.” (John Gardner has written some truly amazing books on writing as well: “On Moral Fiction”, “On Becoming a Novelist” and “The Art of Fiction” - must reads for writers out there. He is also the author of numerous novels and is considered a major American novelist). In “Fires” he speaks of influences and the effect they have on a writer - not only literary influences but the other things that happen in the course of a writer’s life which informs their work. The other essays include meditations on his family, friendships, his life and his struggles to become the writer he became. It’s interesting to me how his prose is much more relaxed in these essays - more so than they are in his stories and perhaps if this “voice” was used more in his fiction, I may have enjoyed them more than I did.
I suppose this collection is a must for completists but for those who have never read him before, I wouldn’t begin with this. Try his other collections out first and see what you think. But this collection is worth it just for the essays on writing alone, which I found informative and interesting.